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The Mayor of MoparNMCA Remembers Dodge//Mopar HEMI Shootout competitor Jeff Smith

Posted By: Steve Baur
It is with great sadness that the NMCA says goodbye to Jeff Smith, who passed away on November 17th, 2021 at the age of 62. Smith claimed the first race win for a Dodge Challenger 1320 after taking home the 12-second prize in the Dodge//Mopar HEMI Shootout at the 2019 NMCA Memphis Homecoming event held at Memphis International Raceway. Smith debuted his prized 2019 Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 at the 2019 Commerce, Georgia, race just prior and narrowly missed taking that win as well. “Every time you get in it, its hard not to get on itit begs to be driven,” Smith said of his new speed machine. Over the next few years, the Jamestown, Tennessee, resident would collect five more victories in the street-based category, but perhaps his greatest wins were in the pits. Through his vibrant and friendly personality, Smith created connections throughout the HEMI Shootout camp that were reinforced with his willingness to help anyone, feed anyone, and make sure everyone had a place to park. “The last few years, a large part of my life has involved Jeff Smith and his red 1320 Challenger,” Ken Mason said. “We have shared motel rooms, we have cooked and eaten lots of meals together, and traveled all over the countryside. The first time I saw the Great Lakes was with Jeff. I was there and saw Jeff's face when he drove a [Dodge] Demon down the track for the first time. He was the best!” “Jeff and I had the first two 1320s,” said Shane Pearson. “Once we met in Memphis, we didnt miss another race until I moved out to Oregon. He and I made more side-by-side passes than you could shake a stick at. I probably wouldnt have done all of the nationwide NMCA races without Jeff. He was so enthusiasticI never met a guy with more love of life and love of the events. Everyone usually centered around him. He was often the first one there and the last one to leave. After Memphis, we started gathering more people. Hed make sure we all had a spot to pit together. People just flocked to him. He was a really good man.” Between races, Shane and Jeff founded the Challenger 1320 Owners page on Facebook, where they would share their knowledge of the car and its features. Another new competitor in the HEMI Shootout was Wade Atchison, whose first race was also the Memphis event in 2019. “Jeff would leave out from his house on a Wednesday night and would be sitting at the gate at 8am on Thursday to get in. He was always the first of our group to get in and would call us to tell us he had saved us spots. If Jeff could bring the kitchen sink, he would have. He would always have a grill and a fryer. He was always feeding us with homemade food and treats. If you ever needed anything, you could ask him and he usually had it. We called him the Mayor of Mopar. He made sure we all knew what was going on. I dont think he ever knew a stranger. He instantly became your friend. He loved to race. He loved his race family. The NMCA has brought us all together, and most of these relationships will last us the rest of our life. We all keep in touch with each other throughout the year. Its been a neat few years being part of that. I think he really enjoyed the camaraderie with the guys, and he was such a competitor. He won the bounty with the Nittos and he was so excited, you would have thought he won the lottery.” Atchison respected Smith enough to hand him the keys to his Dodge Demon to make some passes on it when he had another obligation to tend to. “We were at Norwalk and waiting on our third pass. I had a buddy that was having a memorial that day and I needed to have someone drive my car. I thought, ‘Who would get the biggest kick out of it. I went to him, told him I was late and had to go and asked him to drive my car. He said he could make that work and that he was going to be the first one in line, “I think theyll wait on me to run yours at the end.” He went a 10.20 or something and was beside himself. I was thrilled he got the opportunity to do that. Thats how much I trusted him. He was a big advocate for the NMCA and the HEMI Shootout. He had a great smile and you never saw him in a bad mood. We need more guys like him. You wanted to park next to his trailer. Thats where everything was going on.” Also joining the HEMI Shootout at the Memphis event was James Kiddy, who would eventually get to know Smith at later races. “My first event was Memphis, and then me and my buddy Wade [Atchison] went to Joliet and Indy. Jeff was just a giver. If you messed up, he would build you up. He was really a class act. He would cook and spread out stuff for everyone. He loved racing and was a good racer. There was never anybody who loved a car like he loved that red 1320 car. You always looked forward to seeing him. All of us old guys had ball. Ive never seen him have a bad day. When he lost, he was still smiling. I hope theres a two-lane road up there they let us do burnouts.” “Jeff Smith and I first met in 2019 at the NMCA Dodge Hemi Shootout in Memphis where he and I battled our cars against each other all day... and it sealed our friendship like a prepped track to a drag radial,” said Lee Segars. “Even after beating me out of 2nd place in the Arrington Quick 8 on Sunday, Jacob Segars and I hung around after dark to help him get loaded and headed back to middle Tennessee. Jeff's infectious smile and attitude resulted in me joining he and a group of gentlemen racing in the NMCA events around the eastern US until Covid struck. Jeff, along with guys and gals like Shane Pearson, Ken Mason, Joe Giordano, Pete Mansolillo, Charlie Hallum, Jess Richards... we were all a little group of Dodge enthusiast that shared our knowledge, experience and love of cars together in brother and sisterhood... and always around Jeff's trailer... he was like the glue that bonded us all. You beat me to the finish again sir... Godspeed!” Young or old, Smith seemingly made friends with everyone he met. “Norwalk 2019 was my first time racing ever,” Jess Richards told us. “I met Jeff at my first race. He took me under his wing instantly and became a dad at the track for me. He was literally the glue that held us together. Anything you could possibly need at the track, he had it, and probably 10 extra. He would bring a Thanksgivings worth of food and feed everyone. His trailer was the hang out spot. He looked out for everyone.” Richards was one of many fellow HEMI Shootout racers who attended Smiths funeral, with folks coming from Texas, Arkansas, Georgia, and Ohio. Smith is survived by his mother, Ann Smith, children: Corey Smith (Nichole Hampton), Kristian “Krissy” Smith, Hayley Smith (Andy Bradford), and grandchildren: Jaden Villarreal Smith, Leilynn Blair Smith, Hayden Smith, Alaya Hampton Smith, Alice Hampton, Jacob Bradford and Adam Bradford, brother: Greg Smith, sister: Becky (Gerald) Prichard, and nieces: Hannah and Sarah Prichard.

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